George: 'Just letting the game come to me'

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George: 'Just letting the game come to me'

BOSTON Even before the Indiana Pacers learned they would be without Danny Granger for a while, Paul George had his mind made up that he would be "the next big thing" this season.

But the pressure to perform that George was putting on himself coupled with Granger's absence, threw the 6-foot-8 wing in a bit of a funk to start the season.

"Early on, I was trying to force it so much to where now it's coming to me, playing through the team and just building habits preparing for games," George told CSNNE.com. "So now I'm just letting the game come to me which is different from the beginning of the year."

And that difference has been huge for both George and the Pacers who come into tonight's game against the Boston Celtics having won eight of their last 10 games.

"The last month or so, he's playing at an all-star level," said Indiana coach Frank Vogel. "All year he has been one of the best defensive wings in the NBA, and on the offensive end he has really picked up his assertiveness and shot-making."

George's success stems from his versatility that poses matchup problems on a nightly basis.

With his size and length, most shooting guards are too small to guard him while small forwards don't have his level of athleticism or ball-handling skills.

Add it all up and it's clear to see why the absence of Granger hasn't been nearly as painful as the loss of a leading scorer would be to a lot of teams.

"He opens up the floor a lot and gives us a lot of different looks that we can do," said Pacers guard George Hill. "He's something like Danny Granger, but a lot more athletic. So when we do that, it gives us a great opportunity to spread the floor and do multiple things."

Earlier this season, George was named the Eastern Conference player of the week of Dec. 10-16. During that span, the Pacers were 3-0 while George averaged 23.3 points, 7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.3 blocks in addition to connecting on 47.4 percent of his 3s during that span.

Every breakout season tends to have a turning point of some sort.

For George, that would have been Indiana's loss at Golden State on Dec. 1 when he was scoreless while missing all seven of his shots from the field.

After that, George made it up in his mind that whatever he had been doing on the day of games to prepare, had to be changed.

So for their next game against Chicago, George lifted weights the day of the game in addition to getting up 500 shots before hand.

Indiana won 86-80 and George had a then-season high 34 points. That was followed by a 22-point, 8-rebound game which was followed by a 22-point, 6-rebound, 6-assist night.

George said he rarely lifted on game days and didn't take anything close to 500 shots leading up to tip-off.

"I had this thought in my mind that lifting on game days would make me tired or something," George said. "But I tried it out and I actually felt I was ready; my body just felt great. It wasn't a strain on my body at all."

And as far as the 500 shots, George said, "I never shot 500 shots. I thought that would have gotten me tired as well, shooting 500 shots before a game. But my body just felt relaxed. and when I got on the court, it felt I took those shots so many times that if I shot that shot, it was going to go in."

Having had success at both ends of the floor this season has only fueled George's confidence.

"That's how the all-star's make their mark; being confident and being a floor leader on the floor," George said. "That comes with the territory. You have to make the plays, make the baskets. if you're not ready to make the baskets, you really don't have the confidence to even be on the floor. Confidence goes with everything when you want to be the guy."

And there's little doubt that George believes he is indeed capable of being a go-to player.

But he respects what Granger has done for the franchise, and knows that things will change once Granger, an all-star, returns to the lineup.

"It's in the back of my mind," George admitted. "He's an all-star player and it's really ... I have to keep the mindset the same but know that it's another all-star back in our lineup. I think we'll be able to play great together."

George added, "I think we'll be able to coincide. I got the confidence now to make plays and I think it'll help Danny out. You don't want to help off Danny because he can shoot the ball so well. If my shot attempts and my scoring aren't up, my assists will be up."

And that will bring him even closer to being a first-time all-star at next month's All-Star game in Houston.

George isn't quite ready to announce himself as being on that level just yet.

"Be honest, I only played one good month," he said. "So I still got some time. I think if I continue on this path, I'm playing at an all-star level."

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.